AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
It's been two months since the Houston Astros' elaborate scheme for stealing signs was first revealed. And today, Major League Baseball announced their punishment. In addition to suspending the manager and general manager, the Astros lost draft picks, and the team was fined $5 million. That's the highest amount permitted under MLB rules.
With us to discuss the ruling is Evan Drellich of The Athletic. He helped break news of this stealing back in November. Welcome to the program.
EVAN DRELLICH: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So MLB announces these stiff fines. Then later, the team announced that they let go their general manager - I think it's Jeff Luhnow - and manager AJ Hinch. What else did they say about that decision?
DRELLICH: That was the most surprising decision of it all. We knew a suspension was coming from Major League Baseball. We knew there would be fines and a loss of draft picks. But the fact that the Astros decided to clean house - to start over, essentially - was not foreseen, I think, by most people. But it was a decision that they made feeling like, going forward, how could we keep these two people here - the head of our organization - after such turmoil?
CORNISH: The thing is, weren't people talking about, like, a lifetime ban?
DRELLICH: There was speculation that Major League Baseball potentially could come down on Jeff Luhnow or AJ Hinch with something of a stronger caliber than one year, which was what the suspensions ended up being, based on what their findings were going to be. But I don't think anyone feeling like 2017 and 2018 were - those were the findings - that it was going to be something that strong.
CORNISH: You know, this team has made two trips to the World Series - right? - including this past season, winning in 2017. Are people looking back on those wins and wondering about the role stealing may have played in that success?
DRELLICH: You have to. And that's the most upsetting part of all of it and probably what, if anything, kept Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, up at night. It has to be that because you need a product and a sport that people can believe in, that when they watch it - when someone hits a home run, when a batter connects with the ball, you need to know that they're doing it on their own skill, not on the skill of someone in a video replay room or on the skill of someone looking at a television screen somewhere far off site.
CORNISH: I understand that Alex Cora, the former Astros bench coach - what could happen to him, right? I mean, he doesn't escape from this.
DRELLICH: Cora was mentioned in the nine-page report that Major League Baseball put out today. He was a bench coach in 2017, and then he went on to manage the Red Sox in 2018. He's presently the Red Sox manager. The Athletic - me and another reporter, Ken Rosenthal - we reported that in 2018, the Red Sox had their own electronic sign-stealing scheme. MLB has not disciplined Cora yet. That is expected once the Red Sox investigation is completed. But certainly, he is facing likely some length of suspension at the very least.
CORNISH: Before I let you go, talk to me about what we can expect at spring training, right? You got pitchers and catchers who are going to report next month. What kind of shape will the Astros be in to compete in 2020?
DRELLICH: You know, the Astros became this banner organization on the field. They adopted analytics. They moved forward in progressive ways that weren't seen in the sport before them, and they made themselves kind of a pinnacle of success, at least on the field. And so this decision to move on from both the general manager and the manager doesn't bring them back to square one. They still have people who know what their operating philosophy is. But they're going to face a lot of questions. And with the loss of draft picks - first- and second-rounders - for two years, they're in trouble for a time. And to expect them to be competitive in the near future is probably a reach.
CORNISH: That's Evan Drellich, baseball business reporter for The Athletic. Thank you for your reporting.
DRELLICH: Thanks, Audie.
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